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9 tips for victims on how to deal with sexual assault, abuse and harassment in non Western countries

by Abdul Malik Mujahid

Sexual assault, harassment and abuse are terms not commonly used in a number of Third World countries. Yet, they are realities which remain hidden and continue to be perpetrated.

Victims of sexual assault, abuse and harassment often prefer to keep their horrible secret to themselves, knowing they will most probably be blamed at best or considered deviant and perverted at worst. Neither of these accusations are correct.

If you are a victim, this is a danger to yourself and to others too, who may become the next victims of the sexual harasser and/or abuser. Here are some things you can do about it:

1. Know what the words sexual assault, sexual abuse and sexual harassment mean

Sexual harassment is sexual behavior that is unwanted. The harasser is often someone in a position of authority (i.e. boss, teacher), but harassment occurs between co-workers or peers as well. Men are sometimes harassed, but most victims of harassment are women. The harasser is almost always male. Examples of sexual harassment include suggestive comments, pressure for sexual contact, demands for sex in return for a job or other benefit, sexual jokes.

Sexual assault is an attack of a sexual nature, which includes sexual touching or rape.

Sexual abuse is essentially sexual assault but over a prolonged period of time. Incest, or sexual relations between family members like parents and children, or brothers and sisters, is an example of sexual abuse. But sexual abuse can occur outside of the immediate family too. Uncles may abuse nieces and nephews. Grandfathers may abuse grandchildren.

It is also very important to note that sexual crimes do not necessarily mean that sexual intercourse has taken place. It means any kind of inappropriate sexual touching has occurred.

2. Get medical treatment if you are sexually assaulted or hurt

If you are injured after an attack or sexually assaulted, go to the doctor and get medical treatment as soon as possible. You do not have to tell anyone who caused the injury.

3. Know you are not alone and you are not to blame

Sexual harassment, assault and abuse are not uncommon and you are not alone. There are others who have suffered in a similar way, but in most Third World countries, it happens quietly. It is also important to remember that no one has the right to sexually assault, attack, harass or abuse another person. Islam, in particular, is very strong in its condemnation of this behavior, and requires both Muslim men and women to behave in a respectful and modest way with the opposite sex (see Quran 24:30-31).

4. Find the resources available to you

Resources like hotlines, counselors and sexual assault crisis centers may not be available in most Third World countries, but you may be able to easily find a sympathetic and trustworthy family member or friend you can talk to about the abuse.

Also, if you have a battered women's shelter or women's center in your area, see if they have counselors or other staff members who know how to deal with this issue.

5. Develop a protection plan

If you intend to leave the house to escape sexual abuse that has been happening for a number of years, make sure you have basic documents handy with you-birth certificate, health information, citizenship papers, identity cards, etc. Also find out if there is somewhere else you can move to, even if it's only temporarily, to escape the abuse.

6. Try to get an authority figure to talk about sexual crimes

Try to contact an Imam or authority figure in the community to talk about this issue, whether it is in a religious sermon, a television program, a radio program, a weekly newspaper column or other mediums. By bringing the topic out in the open, the problem can begin to be addressed.

7. Learn about, practice and share Islamic etiquette of dealing with the opposite sex

Know the Islamic perspective on how men and women should interact. In particular, learn about the proper type of behavior that is required between family members, and who is considered a "Mahram" relative and who is not, as well as what this term means.

8. Protect other women and children from your abuser

You may not be able to report the person who has abused you to the police. But you can try to protect yourself and other women and children. This can be done in two ways: you can try to find ways to make sure he is never physically alone with a child or woman; and you can threaten to tell everyone about his problem (even if you don't have the courage to yet) if he tries to harm anyone else.

9. Put your trust in Allah and seek strength from Him

Know that Allah is just and He deals with all injustice. Also know without a doubt that He is the source of strength and guidance, and can and will, Insha Allah, help you get through this. Turn to Him regularly in prayer and supplication when you feel overwhelmed with this situation or any other difficulty. Pray that He gives you the strength, and that He guides your abuser and protects others from his evil.

Muslim Social Services Page @ SoundVision

------Some relevant resources:

Buy Gender Equity in Islam
Buy Jamal Badawi
This book presents an effective overview of the status and rights of Muslim women as defined by the Quran and Sunnah.

Buy The Muslim Marriage Guide
By Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood
The best book for a key to a happy Marriage, explains what a Muslim should do to make his or her marriage successful!

DVD: The Ideal Muslim Husband
An eye opening DVD documentary for all who are married or planning to get married.

Take a Domestic Violence Survey
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SoundVision's Page on Domestic Violence

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